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Bill Russell's death prompts tributes from Barack Obama, NBA

Fan reflect on Bill Russell's legacy after Celtics star passes away
Fan reflect on Bill Russell's legacy after Celtics star passes away 03:35

BOSTON – Tributes have been pouring in from around the NBA world and beyond following the death of Celtics legend and 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell.

Former President Barack Obama issued a statement on Sunday. Obama awarded Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Today, we lost a giant. As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher—both as a player and as a person. Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off of it, he was a civil rights trailblazer—marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali. For decades, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what's right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached, and the way he lived his life. Michelle and I send our love to Bill's family, and everyone who admired him.

President Joe Biden also released a statement, saying in part: 

"The promise of America is that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives. We've never fully lived up to that promise, but Bill Russell made sure we never walked away from it. . . Throughout his life, he forced us to confront hard truths. And on this day, there are generations of Americans who are reflecting on what he meant to them as someone who played for the essential truth that every person is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. Bill Russell is one of the greatest athletes in our history – an all-time champion of champions, and a good man and great American who did everything he could to deliver the promise of America for all Americans."

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said, "Boston and Massachusetts were very lucky to be part of his life story."

"Bill Russell was the definition of a legend. He was a consummate winner and a trailblazer who broke barriers in the game of basketball and the game of life for Black athletes and Americans throughout his career and life," Baker said.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver called Russell "the greatest champion in all of team sports." Silver said he often referred to Russell as "basketball's Babe Ruth."

Paul Pierce called it a "sad day for the NBA family," and reflected on a day he and his Celtics teammates gathered to listen as Russell shared stories.

Current Celtics Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown shared tweets following Russell's death. Tatum thanked Russell "for everything" and Brown called him "one of the greatest athletes ever."

Magic Johnson, a former member of the rival Los Angeles Lakers, spoke of Russell's passion for social justice. Russell was the first Black coach in NBA history.

The Celtics ownership group issued a statement about Russell's passing.

"Bill embodied character and commitment and he was truly one of the finest people to ever live. He will be remembered forever and deservedly so," Wyc Grousbeck, Steve Pagliuca and ownership group said.

"He always tirelessly promoted civil rights and human rights and he was fearless in his convictions," Boston University Thomas Whalen told WBZ-TV. 

Whalen wrote a book about Russell and his impact on the city. 

"Russell once said he'd rather be a streetlamp in Seattle than mayor of Boston. But over time he realized that Boston was gradually changing for the better," he said. 

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